Did justice take too long to investigate?

Detail of the facade of the Buitoni factory in Caudry, in the North, on April 1, 2022 – FRANCOIS LO PRESTI © 2019 AFP

Two months after the first recall of the products by Buitoni, the Paris prosecutor’s office announced the opening of a judicial investigation. Too long a delay for the families of the alleged victims, who denounce “a legal fiasco”. “It took two months for the opening of an investigation, three months for the searches to take place and four months in reality for an investigating judge to be appointed in this case,” said Pierre Debuisson.

On March 12, the French public health agency announced that the resurgence of serious contaminations with the E. coli bacterium, for a few weeks, had caused the death of two children. 50 confirmed cases were then identified. Today, this number rises to 56, without a direct causal link between the consumption of pizzas and consumption having been established.

Buitoni, informed of the presence of this bacterium in its range of Fraich’up pizzas, had proceeded, on March 18, to a recall of the products. Since then, the “Four à Pierre” and “Bella Napoli” ranges have been in the sights of consumers. Complaints have been filed. And at the beginning of April, the prefect of the North had prohibited by a prefectural decree the production of pizzas within a factory in the department after “two thorough hygiene inspections”.

An investigation opened in March

As early as March, justice looked into this case. As of March 22, a preliminary investigation was opened for “manslaughter”, “involuntary injuries”, “deception on goods”, “exposure or sale of corrupt or falsified food products harmful to health”, “marketing of a product harmful to health” and “endangering others”.

The investigations were entrusted to the gendarmes of the Central Office for the fight against attacks on the environment and public health (Oclaesp). Under the leadership of a magistrate from the Health Department of the prosecution, specializing in public health affairs, from Paris, searches were carried out on April 13 at the Buitoni factory in Caudry, in the North.

“For justice to be effective, it had to be fast, I am thinking in particular of the searches which were essential, it was necessary to seize computer documents at the head office of Nestlé, they had to be done immediately (… ) and it is a real problem for the manifestation of the truth”, does not take off Me Debuisson. 876450610001_6306044626112

Complaints to check

At the same time, the Paris prosecutor’s office continued to receive complaints. Complaints that need to be investigated. Others were filed with local prosecutors. Each time, the first investigations are carried out locally, in particular it is verified that the complainants have consumed the pizzas in question and have been victims of the E.coli bacterium. If this is the case, they divest in favor of the public health pole of the Paris prosecutor’s office.

The Paris public prosecutor’s office has thus chosen to keep this file as part of a preliminary investigation before opening a judicial investigation. Thus, the first complaints were handled by a magistrate specializing in public health cases. This also left time to “escalate” the complaints lodged locally. Finally, the investigating judge who has just been appointed, and who has just been entrusted with a sprawling file, has the first elements of the investigation.

New searches to come

The change in procedural framework, from a preliminary investigation conducted by the public prosecutor’s office to a judicial inquiry conducted by an examining magistrate, has only few consequences on the way in which the investigations will be conducted. Moreover, the investigative service of the gendarmes of Oclaesp is still in charge of carrying out the procedural acts. Other searches should be carried out in the coming weeks and the elements already seized must still be analyzed.

Today, authorities are investigating 15 cases, one case of manslaughter and 14 cases of unintentional injury. A figure set to evolve rapidly as complaints are filed “a bit everywhere in France”, notes a source to BFMTV. Whenever necessary, the Paris public prosecutor’s office will make a supplementary indictment so that the examining magistrate is seized of these new cases.

Original article published on BFMTV.com

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